Must, have to or have got to?
Have you ever wondered why there are different ways to describe a need or obligation to do something, and if you picked the right one?
No? Just me?
Oh well, I’m going to explain it anyway.
- is generally used when the obligation comes from the speaker, or from internal reasons
- the speaker is expressing a personal obligation – not an external one
- I must call my friend Lucy again soon. We haven’t talked for a while. -> I feel obliged to talk to her because I want to, not because somebody else is telling me to.
- is generally used when the obligation is external, or when the speaker is obliged to do something because somebody (or something) else is telling them to
- I have to work tomorrow, even though it should be my day off, because my colleague is ill. -> I am going to go to work tomorrow because somebody else is unable to – I wouldn’t do it otherwise.
have got to
- is used in the same way, but usually only in informal situations
- I can’t talk right now, I’ve got to help my brother with his homework.
P.S. In case you were wondering, need to is also used in a similar way as have (got) to. That being said, there’s no need to worry if you feel like you might have used the wrong word – in fact, what I just described are only small differences in connotation and probably don’t matter that much in the end. But I hope you found it useful anyway!